“Alerting” the Coast Guard

In fiscal year 2014 the Coast Guard will deploy an enterprise wide solution to provide Coast Guard units the means to send alerts and warnings to Coast Guard members (active duty, reserve & civilian) in a quick and efficient manner. The tool, which is already being used by the Coast Guard in a limited capacity, is referred to as the Alert Warning System.

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Members of the fire department from U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May respond to a recruit simulating a casualty during a mass casualty exercise at the training center on Sep. 21, 2011. The exercise simulated the Cape May-Lewes Ferry experiencing an out-of-control fire forcing the captain to give the order to abandon ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Michael Cole.
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May fire department respond during a mass casualty exercise . U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Michael Cole.

Written by Lt. Cmdr. Zachary Ford.

Scenario: There has been a report of an active shooter at the car dealership across the street from a Coast Guard sector building.

Minute 1 – CO: “Deputy, based on the events unfolding we need you to notify the crew of this situation. Have the command center send out the active shooter alert to all devices  – work phone, cell phone, work email, personal email. Let me know when the entire crew has been notified and when all members have responded to the alert.”

Minute 2 – Deputy: “OSC Sosandso this is the deputy. An active shooter has been reported at the car dealership across the street. Send out the active shooter alert to the entire crew targeting all devices. Also, put in the alert a response option.”

Minute 10 – OSC: “Deputy, the entire crew has been notified and 85 percent of the crew has responded to the alert and are safe. I will let you know when we reach 100 percent.”

Is the above instance possible? Can an entire unit be notified in a matter of minutes?
With the recent events that took place in Boston, this scenario is all too familiar. Coast Guard units continue to encounter situations where mass notification of the crew is necessary. Examples include unit closings due to weather, changes in force protection posture and bomb threats. Sadly, Coast Guard members who carry out such notifications are accustomed to using laborious excel spreadsheets or the Emergency Notification System, an unsupported, non-accredited notification system set to be disposed of later this year.

Therefore, the question must be asked, does the Coast Guard not have an accredited and approved system to notify its people in a quick and efficient manner? The answer is yes, we do.

In fiscal year 2014 the Coast Guard will deploy an enterprise-wide solution to provide Coast Guard units the means to send alerts and warnings to Coast Guard members – active duty, reserve and civilian – in a quick and efficient manner. The tool, already used by the Coast Guard in a limited capacity, is referred to as the Alert Warning System.

Graphic demonstrating how the Coast Guard Alert Warning System can be used for one-way mass notifications. U.S. Coast Guard graphic.
U.S. Coast Guard graphic.

What is the Alert Warning System? Is it a proven product that will get real-time results?
AWS is a commercial product with a robust mass notification capability. It is an approved and accredited system which allows Coast Guard members to receive alerts via multiple devices which include email, text messaging, phone, pager and fax. It is a proven system used by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, Department of Veteran Affairs, Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration to name a few. As already pointed out, the Coast Guard has been using it in a limited capacity since 2009 as means to transmit maritime security notifications and receive confirmations from maritime security port partners and other stakeholders as required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. It is also authorized for dissemination of Marine Transportation System recovery information, small vessel security awareness and outreach and industry notification and outreach. Examples of this include the Area Maritime Security Committees and the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee. The use of AWS by the Coast Guard for this purpose is referred to as AWS-Port Partner.

Personnel Accountability What is the difference between the Alert Warning System and the Coast Guard Personnel Accountability and Assessment System? Are they the same?
Due to its success, the Coast Guard also adopted AWS in 2012 as the alert notification engine integrated within the Coast Guard Personnel Accountability and Assessment System. This is where people often get confused. CGPAAS is strictly employed for personnel accountability. It is the Coast Guard’s approved system for this use and therefore is used during significant events including natural disasters and terrorist incidents. The use of AWS for this, and when independently deployed to the field for internal mass notification purposes, will be referred to as AWS-Enterprise.

What is the difference between AWS-Port Partner and AWS-Enterprise?
The major difference between AWS-PP and AWS-E is who the recipients are of the alert notifications. As mentioned above, AWS-PP is used to notify persons external to the Coast Guard whereas AWS-E is used exclusively to alert Coast Guard members. However, in terms of how the system operates with regards to sending alerts and receiving alerts, there is no difference between the two.

What are current Coast Guard users of AWS saying about the product?
One Coast Guard unit that uses AWS regularly is Sector Lower Mississippi River. Phil Boruszewski, a port security specialist at the sector writes, “When SLMR first started using AWS-PP, the goal was to achieve a response rate of 60 perecent in one hour of a mass notification of 600 port partners. Since late 2010, we have achieved 60 percent acknowledgment within eight minutes.”

Jeff Kellam, who works within the Coast Guard’s Incident Management and Cross Contingency directorate at Coast Guard Headquarters, shared a similar story. He began using AWS in January 2013 to alert key personnel of changes in the continuity of government conditions. In fact, it was used for the 57th Presidential Inauguration and the 2013 State of the Union Address. On average the response rate of targeted members has been 77 percent within a four-hour period. He noted that the biggest challenge to date is “getting the folks used to the system.”

Is there a specific training involved with AWS?
As discussed above, AWS-E is set to be deployed Coast Guard-wide within the year. Training on the system will be done in a phased approach which will include both on-site and virtual training. The training will not target all Coast Guard members, rather those assigned to create, publish and manage alerts. Information on the deployment of AWS-E will be communicated through official Coast Guard channels.

AWS is a tool that will not only save Coast Guard members’ time but it will further enhance their safety and security. This includes the protection of Coast Guard property. What AWS means to the field from a user perspective can be summed up best by Boruszewski, “The days of maintaining phone trees are a thing of the past thanks to AWS!”

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